When Ellenor Riley-Condit was in fifth grade, she learned about the legend of Bloody Mary. At a sleepover, she and two friends looked into the bathroom mirror and said "Bloody Mary" three times, and even though nothing happened they were all too scared to sleep. It wasn't until much later that Riley-Condit researched the real story behind the conjuring of the spirit who can supposedly tell you your future and thought more about why these stories make us so scared. Now she breaks down scary stories for kids around ages eight to 13 as head writer for the podcast Unspookable. The show tells scary stories while dropping in historic and scientific facts as a way to explore where fear comes from and who is in charge of inciting that fear.
"I just know how much we all think and talk about these things, especially on the playground or at sleepovers or at school or any way we can when we're kids," Riley-Condit says. "To ask the question what are humans afraid of, it's a profound philosophical question, and once you start digging into those things, you're talking about how human consciousness works and how we see other people and all these things about our brain functions. I think being able to introduce some of those more difficult questions, like why are we afraid of people who aren't like us, these stories are a way to do that."
Unspookable is the first project from Soundsington Media, a Chicago-based podcast company creating content for kids. Founder Nate DuFort, who has a ten-year-old daughter, created the company when he realized that most podcasts skewed either too young or too old for his daughter, who was quickly developing an interest in horror stories. With Riley-Condit and host Elise Parisian he created a podcast that tackles subjects like Slender Man, vampires, and the Salem witch trials without talking down to children, but still leaving some of the more gruesome details on the cutting-room floor. And each episode manages to include more complex discussions of fear and inclusivity.
"As basic as it sounds, it's feminist to say maybe the Salem witch trials wouldn't have happened if the patriarchy didn't exist," Riley-Condit says. "It's feminist to say, Who gets to write the stories? And it's feminist, and also I hope anti-racist and anti-xenophobic, to really look at who's in power and how that leads to some of these consequences that involve spooky stuff."
Soundsington Media has two more projects on the horizon aimed at expanding on the ideals of Unspookable. The first is a narrative podcast written by Riley-Condit called Eddy, which follows a young female detective solving a supernatural mystery in her town, with each episode featuring an X-Files-esque monster of the week. Another is a yet-to-be-named show focused on the accomplishments of women and people of color related to space exploration. The creators want to continue their own repertoire to make sure as many different voices are represented as possible, and hope that other podcasting companies will take on creating similar content for preteens.
"That my daughter is so attracted to queer voices, female voices, voices of people of color has been great," DuFort says. "This has to be the best age in history to be raising children because of that." v